YEREVAN – Sergey Smbatyan, the artistic director, and chief conductor of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, along with his father, Armen Smbatyan, the former ambassador of Armenia to Israel, have been arrested and accused of engaging in particularly large-scale fraud.
The General Prosecutor’s Office alleges that Smbatyan’s actions led to a loss of one billion drams for the state, and that the 300-square-meter plot of the Yerevan Tchaikovsky Music School was stolen.
The department announced that the “Sochocenter” company proposed to construct a multi-functional complex called “Book World” in honor of the 500th anniversary of Armenian printing and Yerevan’s recognition as the world book capital in 2012. The company also offered to build a new boiler house and concert hall for the Tchaikovsky school at its own expense.
Back in 2012, the government granted a central area worth about 170 million dollars to the “Sochocenter” company, which, according to law enforcement officers, is owned by the Smbatyan family. However, instead of fulfilling the proposed project, the company started constructing a 17-story business center, leading the Prosecutor’s Office to label the investment project as fraudulent and aimed at looting the territory.
Law enforcement has been investigating this case for several years.
The former ambassador, Armen Smbatyan, who has held various positions in Armenia, allegedly convinced a relative, Avag Smbatyan, to establish the “Sochocenter” company on behalf of Sergey Smbatyan to avoid linking his son’s name to business activities. Another co-founder of the company is a former minister of culture and a close friend of Hasmik Poghosyan, who is currently under investigation.
Shortly after its establishment, Sokhosetri’s then-director, now head of the Komitas Museum Institute, Nikolay Konstadyan, presented the investment project to the mayor, as reported by the General Prosecutor’s Office. The Mayor of Yerevan forwarded the proposed plan to the Minister of Culture, Hasmik Poghosyan, for evaluation. Poghosyan allegedly knew about the Sochocenter company’s true intention to use the land for non-educational purposes and build a multi-functional building on it but did not oppose the investment plan. Consequently, the government approved the program.
Months later, Hasmik Poghosyan reportedly signed “Property Expropriation and Pledge” and “General Lien” contracts with “Sokhocentr”, intentionally omitting the primary investment obligation defined by the Government’s decision, which was to construct the “Book World”. This allowed Sokhocentr’s shareholders to register ownership rights to the plot of land at 36 Koghbatsi Street in Yerevan on November 3, 2016, without fulfilling the stated obligation, resulting in property damage amounting to 966 million 103 thousand drams for the state.
As of now, the Smbatyan family has not responded to the accusations, and their lawyers cannot be reached. Hasmik Poghosyan, who is under investigation, is also considered an accused in this case, and law enforcement is currently trying to locate co-founder Arman Petrosyan.
It is worth noting that Sergey Smbatyan not only serves as the head of the symphony orchestra of Armenia but also holds a position in Malta.